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Nexus 6 deep-dive review: A supersized smartphone that shines

JR Raphael | Nov. 13, 2014
Been avoiding big phones? Google's Nexus 6 packs pure Android Lollipop software into a plus-sized package that's actually pleasant to use.

Google's Camera app is reasonably easy to use, though not quite as user-friendly as Motorola's (and no, the Nexus 6 doesn't have the Moto X-like "double twist" gesture to launch the camera on demand). It includes a couple of genuinely useful effects, like the aforementioned HDR+ mode as well as a Lens Blur mode that emulates the background-blurring "bokeh" effect used in professional photography.

The Nexus 6 is capable of capturing video at 1080p or 4K resolution. Its front-facing 2-megapixel camera, meanwhile, can take video as high as 1080p in quality.

Standout software
Even if its hardware weren't impressive, the Nexus 6 would still be noteworthy for its software alone: The phone is the first to run Google's Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system -- and unlike the majority of Android devices, it runs a "pure" version of the software, just the way Google designed it and without any manufacturer meddling. It also comes with the guarantee of fast and frequent future OS upgrades directly from Google, which is a valuable assurance to have.

I'll have a separate in-depth review of Lollipop to share with you soon, so I won't get into too much detail about the nuances of the software here. In short, though, Lollipop represents a completely fresh start for Android. Almost every area of the user interface has been reimagined with a modern, colorful design and slick new animations. The platform feels more polished and mature than ever -- and using it in its pure and unmodified form is truly a treat.

Design aside, a few of Lollipop's new features have particularly significant effects on what the Nexus 6 is like to use. First, the software allows you to wake the phone and give it commands by saying "Okay, Google" anytime -- even when its display is off.

That concept takes its inspiration from the Moto Voice system pioneered on Motorola's Moto X -- and in fact, Google tells me it borrowed some of Motorola's technology in order to make it work. Specifically, the system is able to learn the sound of your voice and then respond to you and only you (or someone who sounds very much like you).

Unlike with Moto Voice, however, you can't set your own custom launch phrase here; the only thing that'll work is "Okay, Google." That means if you have a Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 nearby and you've enabled voice activation on both, they'll both light up and start listening every time you say the phrase -- which is kind of silly. Same if you have an Android Wear device, which also uses "Okay, Google" as its wake-up phrase. But that aside, the system works consistently well and is an incredibly useful addition to have.

 

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